Dec 2000 Journal

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Subversive farce

Noel Coward, FALLEN ANGELS, Apollo Theatre

After fifteen years of marriage, now lacking in romance and passion, which one of us could be tempted if the love of our youth returned and asked to see us? This is what happens to Felicity Kendal and Frances de la Tour, playing two married women in their 40s, intimate friends who live in each other’s pockets, the Fallen Angels who believe that the best way to overcome temptation is to succumb to it.

The women are unwittingly aided and abetted in their plot by their smug husbands who prefer games on the golf course to those in the bedroom; the scene with the two wives getting drunk on champagne while waiting for their mutual paramour’s arrival, is a triumph of slapstick farce on one level and, on another, a razor-sharp examination of the marital relationships of Mayfair’s ‘smart set’, people so bored with their lives that they have to quarrel over nothing to enliven them.

The play was nearly refused a licence in the 1920s; it was feared that the audience would be offended by “the women’s obvious willingness to go wrong”. The censors thought it “brightly written but extremely dubious” and they were of course right, but the play was passed by the short-sighted Lord Cromer who saw it only as “an unreal farcical comedy”.

Human nature has not changed and the play is just as funny, just as relevant and just as subversive of conventional sexual mores now as it ever was. But don’t be put off; the subversion is so delicate and witty that most people would not even notice it and the comic situations, the wit and the acting so wonderful that you will fall off your seat laughing.
Andrew Herskovits

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